Austin is a city in Mower County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 23,314 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Mower County. The southern part of the city is in Austin Township while the northern part is in Lansing Township; the city is politically independent of both. Austin is located at the intersection of Interstate Highway 90 and U.S. Highway 218 in the southeastern part of the state. The town was originally settled along the Cedar River and it has two man-made lakes called East Side Lake and Mill pond.
The meat packer Hormel Foods Corporation is the largest employer in Austin, where its factory makes most of North America's Spam tinned meat. The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual Independence Day Freedom Fest. "Spam Town USA," as Austin is sometimes called, is also home to the Spam Museum. American football coach and commentator John Madden was born in Austin. PGA Golfers Tom Lehman , Lee Janzen and Jon Chaffee were born in Austin. Conrad Ray, the Head Men's Golf Coach at Stanford University and a former touring golf professional and member of the 1994 National NCAA Championship Golf Team while an undergraduate at Stanford, was raised and graduated from high school in Austin.
School had been held in a small cabin near Leverich's mill as early as 1854, but by 1857 school was being taught by Maria Vaughn in the Robert Audis building. That year W.A. Woodson started to butcher and dress pork for sale and the first Congregational Church services were held in the Old Headquarters Building. The Truesdell brothers built the first grist mill in 1858, thereby reducing the need for oxen-freight flour from Decorah and Chatfield. 1858 also saw the city's first newspaper, the Mower County Mirror, and the beginning of public utilities and street lamps. The Oakwood Cemetery and the first library (started by the Floral Club) were also started in 1858.
The first permanent school building was built in 1865, and Harlan Page opened the first bank the following year. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and other smaller rail lines were established in 1867-69, thus turning the growing town into a small rail hub. First National was granted a U.S. Government bank charter in 1868. In 1885, service on the Chicago Great Western Railway first started in Austin. George A. Hormel started George A. Hormel & Co. in 1892. Dr. O.H. Hegge and area Lutherans organized the Austin Hospital Association, and thus St. Olaf Hospital was established as a non-profit organization. Charles Boostrom opened the Southern Minnesota Normal College and Austin College of Commerce in 1897; both remained open until 1925.
The Austin Park Board was created in 1902 to build and maintain the city's parks. On March 10, 1903, the city adopted a Home Rule Charter that still forms the basis of city government to this day. The original Austin Public Library, one of the nation's many Carnegie libraries, was completed in 1904. The Recreation Board was created in 1939. In April 1949 the Park Board and the recreation Board were merged to become the Austin Park and Recreation Board. The last passenger train (the Chicago Great Western Railway) left Austin on September 30, 1965, and Austin has not had passenger service since. Ground was broken for the Salvation Army building on October 16, 1967. The Jay C. Hormel Nature Center was created in 1971 when the land was purchased from Geordie Hormel with a state grant. Riverside Arena opened in 1973. Victor Borge performed with the Austin Symphony Orchestra on April 28, 1977. Austin had a bad flood on July 6-7, 1978, when the waters reached 19.5 inches. Over 1,000 homes and businesses were damaged. Ten days later, 16 inches of rain fell at Waltham and the Cedar River crested in Austin at 21 feet, 9 inches.
From August 1984 until June 1985, there was a major strike at Hormel that resulted in then-Governor Rudy Perpich requesting National Guard intervention allowing replacement workers to enter the plant. This strike was documented in the Academy Award-winning Barbara Koppel film, "American Dream." The town still remains divided over the issue of labor unions at the plant.
As of the census of 2000, there were 23,314 people, 9,897 households, and 6,076 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,168.2 people per square mile (837.4/km²). There were 10,261 housing units at an average density of 954.3/sq mi (368.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.6% White, 0.81% African American, 0.18% Native American, 2.22% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 3.09% from other races, and 1.09% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race was 6.12% of the population.
There were 9,897 households, out of which 27.2% had children under the age of 18, 48.6% were married couples living together, 9.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.6% were non-families. 33.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29; the average family size was 2.90.
In the city the population was spread out, with 23.3% under the age of 18, 8.7% from 18 to 24, 25.1% from 25 to 44, 20.9% from 45 to 64, and 22.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 92.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,750, and the median income for a family was $42,691. Males had a median income of $31,787 versus $23,158 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,651. About 7.5% of families and 10.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.0% of those under age 18 and 5.1% of those age 65 or over.
The government, education, hospitality, and retail sectors comprise much of the remainder of Austin's employment base.